The Goldstone story will not die

South African judge Richard Goldstone’s damning report of the recent Gaza war continues its public hearing (highlighting the complete lack of interest or will on the part of Israel, or Hamas, to investigate their own crimes):

The Financial Times, with a history of real balance in the Middle East (or at least an ability to see Israel’s colonial project for what it is) editorialises thus:

The damning United Nations report on last winter’s Gaza war has unleashed a torrent of enraged polemics – beginning a long time before it was endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council last Friday.

The report, compiled by a team led by Richard Goldstone, the distinguished South African jurist, has been virulently condemned by Israel and its allies as biased, even though it points to possible war crimes committed by both Israeli forces and Hamas militiamen.

Much of the criticism centres on methodology – with a subtext characteristic of Israel’s irredentist right that since Mr Goldstone is a Jew he must be a traitor. This is, to say the least, disingenuous.

From the moment Mr Goldstone, former chief prosecutor for the UN special tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was appointed, Israel refused to co-operate with him and denied him entry. It was his reputation the government feared (and attacked) not his methods.

Israel is on much stronger ground objecting to the UN Human Rights Council and its predecessor. Israel has been the subject of about a third of country-specific resolutions, as council members from Libya to Angola hide behind the Palestinian cause to deflect attention from their own records of serious human rights abuse.

Yet, Israel should not complain too much. The UN is also the body where the US – often backed solely by Micronesia – has prevented any sanctions for Israel’s illegal colonisation of occupied Arab land or disproportionate conduct in war.

The UN can, occasionally, get something right, in for example voting down as head of Unesco Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosny – a censor and anti-Semite whose contribution to cultural freedom is far from evident.

The Goldstone report does give greater weight to Israel’s military activity in Gaza – but there was so much more of it. Some of the incidents it examines – the bombing of hospitals and schools and use of white phosphorous in dense urban areas – are already documented.

But while it finds this in violation of customary international law on the duty to minimise loss of civilian life, it also says clearly that indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas “would constitute war crimes” – even though some 1,400 Palestinians died, most of them civilians, as against 13 Israeli fatalities, three of them civilians.

This is a balanced report on an imbalanced conflict. The attacks on Mr Goldstone should not obscure its message: there can be no warrant or moral right for indiscriminate attacks on civilians.